STAFFORD – A lot has changed in Stafford Township in the last 20 years…except for the movie theater.
It is popular opinion among residents that the local Regal Manahawkin movie theater is in desperate need of repair, “forcing” residents to travel elsewhere to see a film due to its poor condition.
According to Stafford Township’s Zoning Officer Karl Sillitoe, the theater was built in 1998 and the property has not seen any major updates or improvements since then. Now, more than ever, this kind of development might be necessary for business.
In the last few years, the cinema experience has expanded to incorporate more comfort and luxury into the activity; a major factor being the addition of power recliners. AMC describes its power recliners as such: “The power to relax is in your hands in our AMC Signature Recliners. Seat warmers make it cozy, AMC makes comfort easy! Take your movie experience to the max when you tilt back & sink in to the comfort now reclining near you!”
As the only theater in the southern Ocean County area, the Regal Manahawkin still manages to get foot traffic from residents unwilling to stray too far from Manahawkin. However, a majority of Stafford residents would rather travel the 20 or 30 miles to Toms River or Brick Townships for that more enjoyable movie experience.
“We always go up to Marquee [in Toms River] or AMC in Brick. It is totally outdated compared to its somewhat local competition! Seats are terrible, not even stadium seating. My wife and I always say a new movie theater in Manahawkin would do CRAZY business by taking the travel out of the activity,” said resident Rob Bosco (no relation to author).
Dozens of residents share Bosco’s opinion, a surprising amount traveling even further than Toms River into Brick or Howell to see a movie at a different theater, simply for the comfort and experience.
Aside from the Regal Manahawkin, the only other theaters in Ocean County are the Marquee Cinemas – Orchard 10 and the AMC Seacourt 10 in Toms River, and the AMC Brick Plaza 10 in Brick. Others venture into Monmouth County to the Xscape Theater Howell 14 in Howell, or even farther south to Hamilton to a different Regal theater.
The consensus among locals is that the Manahawkin theater is dirty, uncomfortable, and very much outdated. Today, many people like to choose their seats, buy their tickets ahead of time, and recline in stadium seating if they are going to pay upwards of $11 for a movie ticket; most of which Manahawkin cannot provide.
Resident Susan Diou said: “[I] Always go to Toms River or Brick [because] they have better seats, and a more updated atmosphere. The only time I will go to Stafford is in the summer during their $1.00 movie mornings. If Stafford would update I would absolutely stay local every time. It’s like they don’t even care enough to make things decent.”
The Manahawkin theater follows behind other theaters, still offering level seating in chairs that do not recline. Many residents have claimed that there are often broken seats and sticky floors inside the individual theaters, making it an uncomfortable place to sit for two hours.
Resident Kelly Loftus has had bad experiences at the Regal Manahawkin, stating: “The last time I was in Manahawkin movie theater I sat in gum and some of the chairs were broken. This was back when the last Harry Potter movie was released and I have not been back since,” she said. (The final installment of the Harry Potter saga Loftus refers to, The Deathly Hallows Part II, was released in 2011.)
“I go to Brick AMC for movies, personally it’s a little bit cheaper in the cost of ticket price and the comfort of the reclining chairs,” Loftus added.
Resident Elaine Sipos can also attest to the lack of cleanliness at the theater, stating that there is often popcorn coating the floors among other inconveniences.
“Last few times we went to the movie in Manahawkin we had to purchase tickets at concession stand! Poor kid has to get popcorn and drinks along with selling tickets. The other worker was collecting tickets, made no sense,” she added.
Other residents have also claimed that tickets are sold at concession, though Jersey Shore Online could not reach a Regal representative to confirm this.
“We go to [AMC in] Brick. First because I like picking seats and tickets ahead. [Regal] is run down and dated but so is most of that end of the shopping center,” stated resident Dani Elle Adams. “There are not many things down here to do and they are losing a lot of business.”
As Adams points out, the west end of the Stafford shopping center located on Route 72 is mostly vacant by now, many other stores following suit after Kmart went under in 2017. Where there used to be a Radio Shack, pizza restaurant, Carvel ice cream shop, Mandee’s clothing store, and more, there is now empty storefronts yet to be filled by the plaza’s new owner.
While the majority chooses to avoid the Manahawkin theater, other residents still go in order to support local commerce.
“I realize that our Manahawkin theater may not be a shining star with reclining seats, but it is local and shows good movies!!! We need to do business locally or face the possibility of losing it,” stated Sandra Van Duyne Hall, echoing Adams’ comment that there is little in the way of entertainment in this area. “Everyone wants brand new, but there is a price to be paid for that…Buildings are like people, we all get older, that doesn’t make us useless.”
Resident Darla Annovick is also a regular customer at the Manahawkin theater. “We purchased the Regal Club deal for $20 month and go as often as we like. Sure it isn’t as nice as other theaters, but it is never crowded, friendly staff, free refills on popcorn and drinks.”
Some residents who prefer the Manahawkin theater feel it is much easier to bring noisy kids to, as the crowds are smaller and less likely to be disturbed.
“We go to the theater here! It’s convenient, never overcrowded and my kids love it. Would recliner seats be nice? Yes… But it’s not a deal breaker,” stated Leah Heumiller Wahlgren.
It seems the refrain coming from a majority of residents, including those who continue to visit the Manahawkin theater, is that it “needs a makeover.”
Representatives from Regal Manahawkin and Regal Management did not respond to requests for comment from Jersey Shore Online as of print time.